In an interview to IANS, V. K. Yadav, Chairman Railway Board said that the national transporter will achieve the target of becoming ODF by next year as only five per cent of the rail coaches are left with the traditional toilets.
"Out of 70,000 coaches, only 2,362 are left to be installed with the bio toilets and in next few months we will be able to become open defecation free," Yadav said on the sidelines of the release of the cleanliness report of the stations here.
The Chairman said that about 95 per cent coaches have been fitted with bio toilets and we have also come over the issues of choking and other problems that we faced initially. And now we are able to maintain the bio toilets at a good level.
The railways has faced public criticism for stinking toilets, especially in long-distance trains. Before the introduction of bio-toilets, lack of cleanliness, particularly in the toilets, was always a big issue. Until then, trains had no system to treat human waste, which was emptied on to the rail tracks.
In bio-toilets, human waste isn't supposed to be emptied on to the tracks but digested by anaerobic bacteria, which convert it into water and bio-gases that are released after disinfection. However, it was found that this hardly worked in practice.
A Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) report in 2017 stated that foul smell emanated from as many as 223 bio-toilets.
Inspection indicated a problem with the flushing system and inadequate water supply.
The bio toilets were fitted first in new coaches and then retrofitted in the old ones. This is done at railway workshops in Mumbai's Parel, Bhopal and Jhansi.
The Railway Board Chairman said that the national transporter is going to take the bio toilets to next level.
He said, "We are working on bio vacuum toilets. We have developed a new technology in collaboration with the RDSO (Research Design and Standards Organisation) which will be bio toilet cum vacuum toilet."
"So in the coming days the new coaches will be fitted with the new bio-vacuum toilet which will work like vacuum toilet when the train will run. And in case the train is not having electricity or power supply while being stationary at the railway stations, it will work as bio toilets," he said.
Vacuum system reduces use of water considerably in flushing of toilets.
According to railway ministry, smooth functioning of toilets is very essential for Indian Railways as some train journey lasts for 30 to 40 hours.
To a question over the testing of the bio vacuum toilets last year in over 100 trains, he said, "The results were very good. There were some teething troubles which were rectified. So in the coming days we will install the bio-vacuum toilets in the new coaches."
According to the railway officials, these bio-vacuum toilets are odour-free and cut down water usage by over one-20th. In bio-toilets, the water requirement per flushing is up to 15 litres. And the water doesn't generate enough pressure to discharge the waste from the pots, resulting in a foul smell and blockage of the pot. While the bio-vacuum toilet only requires about half a litre of water and all the waste is cleared through suction.
To a question over the railway's plans on the occasion of 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the Chairman said, "in last five years railways has improved the services under the Prime MInister Narendra Modi's 'swachh bharat abhiyaan'. Railways has also adopted 'Swachh Rail, Swacch Bharat' to promote the campaign."
Yadav said that railways brought 'Swachh Bharat pakhwada' adopted in railways since September 16 this year, "and over 18 lakh railway employees and their family members, students and several NGOs participated in the 'Swachh Rail, Swachh Bharat' campaign".
"Today on the occasion of 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, we have tried our best to clean the areas near the railway premises and also took the pledge to stop the usage of single-use plastic. We won't allow the use of plastic in railways and will do its safe disposal," Yadav said.
Yadav also said that the railways has installed the plastic crushing machines at several stations and in train coaches to crush the plastic bottles.
(Anand Singh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)